JibitiJibiti — Fiction & Poetry
by Ajinomoh Caleb
They have gathered again. Tall, short, old, young, and sucklings, they have gathered again.
There is always something to crowd about in this place, people milling around like a horde of horny bees. And they’re always talking angrily.
Uncle Richards says they’re called mobs.
I know very little about mobs. The most I know is that papa always warns us to walk quicker whenever we came across them
“Alele1, run and pass, you hear me?” He would tug at his left ear so hard I wondered whether he punished himself to teach us a lesson.
Something I know a lot about though is beans. I know brown and white beans. I know big and small beans, the one mama uses for Akara. My brother never stops farting whenever we eat beans, a putrid flavor he deadens the atmosphere with. Sometimes, I think his fart is a big reason why global warming is causing us headaches.
I know Ewa Agoyin2, the delicious type of beans so mushy and tasty you’re mad at yourself for finishing it, the spicy taste attaching itself to your tongue hours after you must have licked the plate empty. Never mind our brothers in Togo ate it first, we eat it better and me I eat it every day no matter what mama cooks.
It is because of Ewa Agoyin that I am walking down the street inside this hot harmattan sun that seems intent on baking my body. Everybody seems to be in a hurry. It is like this every day whatever the hour — morning, afternoon, or evening. Papa says even at night people are in a hurry. I don’t agree, but I never go out that time so I keep quiet.
It is funny because the same people running as if they will die if they stop to breathe will now stop and congregate over each other especially if there is something to see, everybody trying to see at the same time. Papa says kidnappers and pickpockets enjoy this kind of assembly.
I am on my way to Iya Risikat3, the yellow madam that sells hot rice, dodo4, okpewu and more importantly, Ewa Agoyin. Her canteen is about thirty houses from my house. I am so used to making this journey everyday sometimes I imagine the canteen advances to meet me halfway, maybe ten houses early.
My brother does not like making this journey at all even though he took more spoonfuls of Iya Risikat’s steaming protein goodness.
“Na me go first start” And he’d dig into the food. He’d take four spoons for everyone I took.
“Na pikin5 dey first stand up for where elder dey chop”. And he’d bid me leave the food.
His ‘seniority’ ended there. He would never go out to buy it especially in the afternoon when he’d say “You see that mad woman for road? She dey fear me abeg. I no go. That woman can bite person one day”.
And we would laugh. And I would be on my way. He never went for us. Never.
You can’t blame Ebenezer my brother. You must understand that Iya rainbow is not a calm mad woman o, not the kind we’ve been used to on Alhaji Kasamu Street. Me I am just eleven years old but Ebenezer has seen more mad women come and go in this street and he says this one is the angriest. Where they went, I don’t know. I guess it makes sense that nobody asks where they went since nobody asked where they came from.
Iya rainbow is always running. My brother and I used to joke that she is the true spirit of Lagos mascot. Even when she is sitting down, the few times she does that, she is always shifting her buttocks as if thirty thousand soldier ants are marching under. Several times she has knocked unsuspecting passersby over. It is always so funny. She comes running towards you and you’re in her path, and you don’t use the eyes behind your head to know that somebody is coming and leave the road, she will jam you and continue her Forest Gump.
That reminds me. We also call her JibitiJibiti. That’s the closest we could do for a heavy duty trailer, those long snakes that swallow lives on Nigerian roads every day.
But it is only visitors that experience that one. We the people on Alhaji Kasamu Street already know what to do. It is not a strange sight to see a well dressed office person sprinting like they’re trying to break Usain Bolt’s Olympic record. This is because JibitiJibiti chose to chase that soul on that particular morning. Ah and you have to run oh, even faster than her.
Different people have said maybe it is the color of dress you wear or even the kind of perfume you spray that day, but forget, JibitiJibiti can chase anybody any day even if you’re naked. I’ve never seen her chase a pregnant woman or young girls. And me. Ah well, I haven’t mentioned she does not chase me? She does not. Some yeye6 people have said maybe she sees me as her child, but that does not even make sense. Me that I am bigger than my sixteen-year old brother. Whenever she sees me coming, she’ll start cradling her arms like a nursing mother trying to send her baby to sleep.
I never look her in the eye, but I know she is smiling at me as I walk past her. They say she used to be very fine. Omoge7, like Iya Wuraola would say. Which I find hard to believe since the same people said they don’t know where she came from. I don’t know the difference between that time she was omoge and now since I’ve never looked at her, but every time I go past her, I feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing as they respond to what I imagine must be a long stare. This is the only time I don’t like Ewa Agoyin.
Today sha I am walking with my auntie, thinking about how I’ll walk back alone because she is going to take the bus back to her office at Maryland. She came to greet papa from work and now she is going back to take the bus under the next bridge. Sometimes when I’m coming back, I hold the nylon carrying the plate against the side of my face so that I can pass unnoticed. Sometimes, it works. Other times, I feel her eyes piercing through the nylon and hot beans to slap my right ear.
The mob today is helele8, like my neighbor used to say when the number of people in one place is overwhelming. They’re gathering very close to where JibitiJibiti usually sits, when she decides to. JibitiJibiti is nowhere to be seen. This is a very strange day.
“Ah ah, what is happening?” I conference with myself.
I run off in the direction of the throng of bodies, against my auntie’s warning.
I cannot get past the first burly man whose buttocks smell in a way that put Ebenezer’s fart to shame. Cheii!
I withdraw from this part of the crowd. Traders, schoolchildren with uniforms as dirty as our neighbor’s yard, mechanics, and bricklayers all pile on each other. The numbers swell by the minute and me I keep shifting back as more people pile from behind. It is not me that they will press inside all these bodies. Papa will kill me if he finds out sef. That is if they don’t kill me first. I have never wished to see JibitiJibiti more than now, so that she will come and scatter these people and I will glance what is calling this kind of attention.
I really should continue on my way to Iya Risikat but today it is like the urge to know why JibitiJibiti allowed these people to gather near her home is stronger than my craving for Ewa Agoyin.
I try another part of the crowd but this mechanic’s armpit will weaken me so much papa will not have anything left to beat again. I really don’t understand why they sell armless shirts for people with smelly rainforest armpits. Yeye people!
I decide that the best thing to do is to withdraw and look for another window. The next opening I find is the worst one o, kai. This madam is just small that third Mainland Bridge used to big pass her, ahan. Her legs, yakata9 everywhere, one leg like a hybrid of Onitsha yam and Abakaliki pawpaw. Yellow enough to make Benue maize jealous, her bottom kuku cover everywhere.
As the numbers increase, the noise increased. So many people are saying so many things at the same time. I kuku remove myself and decide to pick their words, maybe it will be better. It is only in large crowds like this that you see adult men going ta ta ta like market women.
“So na so this one sef take kpai10?”
I inch closer to the thinly bearded man on the right who just spoke. He is wielding a portmanteau. Shoe maker.
I move away quickly. Some kain11 mouth odor can run for local government chairman in this our area and win. Uncle Richards says our local government chairman is dirty, rotten in his core and foul. I swear this man’s mouth was there when he said it. People say Uncle Richards is bitter because he lost the elections, but that’s another matter for another day.
I inch closer to the man on the left, who looked like the least badly dressed person in the crowd. He looked like one of those “offering pastors”, a special breed of “Men of God” who board molue12 buses randomly, preaching the Good News laced with bursts of “You will die if you don’t repent” “Jesus is coming soon. Are you ready brethren?” “Where will you go if you die on this bus?” They’re usually very fired up and impassioned when they preach but just wait till it is time to “sow seeds into the ministry”, you will see meekness how the bible prescribes it.
He is wearing a grey suit, the kind of grey that you call grey because you’re out of colors and you’re really trying to show you have home training. I keep at least five feet from him in case he had our local government chairman in him too.
“This is just callous. Quite unfortunate.”
Yes, just the kind of “offering pastor”. Their oyinbo13 is not Agege grammar school level.
“One only wonders how long this has been here for”.
“The way e be ehn, be like something wey just happen this morning. As I take see am o”
Foul breath is talking. I am thankfully a distance from him.
“The irony is not lost on me. Only a truly mad fellow would’ve perpetrated this kind of evil”. The offering pastor continues, haphazardly attempting the sign of the cross. His rather large striped tie reminded me of the snake uncle Okon killed last week.
“Ejo’o15, I don’t understand. Shey Na the first time wey we dey see this kain thing for road?”
I turn around to a yellow wall, her thick legs preventing an escape. The fat yellow madam had come to insert herself into the conversation. I notice now that there is something desperate about her kind of yellow. Fading grey spots are in abundance all over her legs. Her ankle ligaments are very black. Ah the work of Tura. I couldn’t look at her face but she was the kind of woman who grew proper beard and chest hair like auntie Adaeze, our wicked English teacher.
“No be today nyash16 dey for back”
She continued sermonizing in the vulgar street lingua I fully understood, even at my age. The men indulged her.
“So none of this is any shock to you?” The “man of God” wanted answers.
With this kind of mobs, everyone pays attention to whoever is speaking loudest and this madam’s voice could send our church speakers out of business.
“Na so e dey always happen for here. Shock ke?” more people joined us.
‘This one sef tey too much. You know how many times she don get belle?’ A wave of oohs and aahs greeted this revelation. She contorts her eyebrows in a failed attempt to roll her eyes, but the intent is unmistakable.
“Abeggi wetin? No be some of una for here dey chook14 am? Abi una think say we no sabi19?”
A few hisses drowned in the consequent grumbles that followed this revelation. I am almost spell bound by her August address. But I am very angry. Nobody has mentioned what they’re wailing about.
“Shut up your dirty mouth abeg”
“You no go go cook for your husband”
“No be if she don see person marry am?”
“As you big reach, your mumu17 still big pass you’.
Torrents of expletives pour in from different mouths. I begin to drift from the assembly, or so it looked for they suddenly shrank in appearance.
I feel being led away from the scene. Fearing the worst, maybe auntie Keziah went back to report me to papa and he had come to get me, I look up. I freeze, momentarily. The sun shone directly into my eyes but I knew I was beholding this face for the first time.
I form the words “Chimooooo” and “Helpppp” but they are caught trying to escape in my throat.
I am indeed being led, by hand, by JibitiJibiti herself!
She appears to bleed from her neck down. In fact, it looks as if it is severed completely but she somehow manages to keep it on her shoulders even though we are breaking into a jog now. I notice she has a plastic bag in her hand. I wonder what is inside. I imagine I hear her ask “do you want to know what is inside?”
I shut my eyes. I open them. I shut them again. I open them again.
No, she is speaking to me. I look around but no one is even looking in our direction. I drop my nylon. She nudges my head. I think she expects me to look up at her. I cannot do that. I observe she is well dressed today, almost regal. Her finger nails are even painted. Maybe that’s why people are ignoring us. Perhaps they think we’re mother and son returning from Balogun market.
‘She’s not my mother ooooooo’. I found my voice. I scream. I scream more, apparently not loud enough. She doesn’t even bother to reprimand me in any way or lift her index to her lips as auntie Adaeze would whenever she flogged a student.
She suddenly drops the plastic bag on its side. A baby’s legs pop out. I scream. I scream with all of my body. I wriggle out of her grip and begin to run in the opposite direction. I am the 200 meters dash champion of my school so I know my way with feet on land. But that mattered little for she was soon ahead of me, walking in my direction from the direction I am running to. She has changed her dress. This one is flowing. She is carrying two bags this time. I don’t even want to imagine what she’s carrying in there.
She walks to the main road. I don’t know if she’s trying to cross to the other side of the road or she is hailing a cab or bus, she just stands there. My legs betray me, for instead of running the other way, I find myself running towards her. She falls over on her back. I look around — everyone is minding their day’s business. It seems I’m the only one fascinated by JibitiJibiti. And it was not a voluntary emotion.
The recharge card seller is there under the MTN uber umbrella, fanning herself with a book. The mechanic is there, sat with his friends diving into what looked like a game of kalo-kalo. Even the bole20 woman is there fanning her roasted plantain and yam.
I squint hard to make sure my eyes are not deceiving me. She suddenly gets up. Wait, she doesn’t. I don’t understand it. She’s on the ground. But yet there she was walking past me. And she’s not by herself. It happens again. I think I’m back at home watching a nollywood movie with Nkem, but I am not.
How will I explain to mama Rashid that I saw her husband holding hands with JibitiJibiti? How will papa Toby not slap me to sleep when I tell him I saw him walking at the same pace with JibitiJibiti? The one that worries me is pastor jerry, the jerry-curled pastor of Grace Alone Abides ministries, that church with fifteen members. Why is he helping her with her bag? Even Alhaji Dosumu, the respected cleric took his turn walking past me with her. My eyes trail them till they entered a black SUV, one of those big cars that only enter our street during Christmas and Sallah celebrations. Their driver was mad too, I think. He is furiously revving the engine to life, but she is still under the car. I scream so much my ears continue to flap after I stop.
“Jude! Jude! What is it?”
My mother’s emerald eyes are boring into mine. I gather my sheets closer. My sheets are soiled, whether with hot piss abi sweat — I don’t even know or care.
“What happened? You look like you were chased by a ghost”
“Yeye. That is what happens when somebody is sleeping inside this hot sun”. My father walks out of the room. I realize I’m still in my school uniform. Beads of perspiration settled over my school badge. I am very sure my shorts are in a worse state. I look around the room.
‘Where’s Ebenezer?’ was all I could manage.
‘He has gone to Iya Risikat. Why?’
1. Alele — Quickly
2. Ewa Agoyin — beans pepper soup, a West African delicacy
3. Iya Risikat — Risikat’s mum
4. Dodo — fried plantain
5. Pikin — child, toddler, younger person
6. Yeye — useless
7. Omoge — damsel, fair maid
8. Helele — heavy
9. Yakata — spread-eagled
10. Kpai — dead/die
11. Kain — kind of
12. Molue — yellow rickety commuter buses popular in Lagos Nigeria
13. Oyinbo — grammar
14. Chook — impale, metaphoric for sexual intercourse
15. Ejo’o — Please
16. Nyash — Buttocks
17. Mumu — idiocy
18. Kalokalo — local board game played by two or more people
19. Sabi — knowledge/information
20. Bole — roasted plantain, another West African delicacy
Ajinomoh Caleb is a print journalist and writer. He contributes for the education review desk of The Sun newspaper, a Nigerian national tabloid. His first nonfiction, Job Seekers Do Stupid Things, a guide for fresh entrants in the Nigerian job market, published in September on Amazon and Kindle platforms. His first fiction, Femme Fatale is undergoing final edit and primed for a March 2016 release. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria. You can follow him on Twitter @Queerpants.
Originally published at www.kalaharireview.org.